After Kyra turned six this summer, she started telling me that she’s going to be sixteen soon. She flexes her independence by digging through the refrigerator or freezer and making her own meals and pouring her own drinks. The few inches she gained in recent months allow her to reach the microwave or toaster. One day, I even caught her sneaking some juice off the top of the fridge!
“Look Mommee! I can reach things,” she says while pushing random buttons on the microwave.
This could be good and bad, I thought, as she hit the start button. “Kyra never stand that close to the microwave,” I tell her as I move her back a few feet.
Inside the microwave, a plastic plate spins. I hit “stop” and tell Kyra, “Never microwave anything that is plastic.”
“Why?” she asks.
I realize that some plastic are microwave-safe, but for Kyra’s first lesson in plastics, I’d rather take the conservative approach. As Urvashi Rangan, PhD, technical policy director at the Consumers Union, states “We know that heat degrades any plastic over time.”
Lesson 1: Toss 3, 6, 7 types of plastic.
On the bottom of most plastic, there’s a recycling symbol with a number between 1 and 7 indicating the type of plastic and chemicals that might leach from them. I decide to turn this into a sorting exercise and ask the kids to help me toss all our plastics with the number 3 and 6 and 7, which are plastics that contain harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
BPA acts like estrogen and disrupts hormone and reproductive functions in animals. The National Toxicology Program found that BPA can cause breast cancer, early puberty development, learning disorders, and prostate cancer. Check out FDA’s BPA Information for Parents.
Phthalates are often found in children’s toys or vinyl shower curtains. They disrupt the endocrine system and have caused malformations in the male reproductive system in animals. Research in humans has shown an association between high phthalate exposure and low sperm quality, high waist circumference and insulin resistance.
Lesson Two: Toss single-use plastic.
Every day, my kids insist on drinking from Lightning McQueen Take and Toss Sippy Cups. I had no idea that my indulgence for their favorite cup could actually be hazardous to their health. Single-use plastics breaks down over time and aren’t designed to withstand heating and cooling. So in our sorting exercise, I will ask the kids to toss any plastic with the number 1 and takeout containers and anything that looks like it’s meant for single-use.
Lesson Three: Wash by hand.
By now, I’m feeling like a bad mom. I’ve never checked to make sure that the plastics I place in the dishwasher are labeled dishwasher safe. Apparently in the dishwasher, plastics are exposed to heat and detergents that may accelerate the leaching of chemicals like BPA.
Lesson Four: Don’t panic.
Bryan Walsh writes in a Time Magazine’s The Truth About Plastics, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 92% of Americans age 6 or older test positive for BPA — a sign of just how common the chemical is in our plastic universe.” I start to panic. Maybe, it’s too late. We’ve all been exposed to BPA and phthalates.
Fortunately, my husband pointed out a report that showed how many things in our life like smoking, poor diet, and driving a car, pose a higher risk than exposure to plastics. Still, it’s important to educate yourself about plastic. Weigh government resources like NIH’s Tox Town against The American Chemistry Council which busts myths and provides guidelines on how to recycle.